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Regulation, Competition and Independence in a Certification Society: Financial Reports vs. Baseball Cards

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  1. Regulation, Competition and Independence in a Certification Society: Financial Reports vs. Baseball Cards Karim Jamal and Shyam Sunder AIS Workshop, University of Kansas February 22, 2008 Jamal & Sunder, Cerfication Society

  2. Summary • Economic consequences of mandatory audit remain controversial • Cross market analyses can yield limited but useful insights • Exploration of audit certification in the broader context of certification activities in the economy • Extent and nature of certification services • Ubiquity of certification and conflicts of interest • Fineness of certification reports (2-100) • Field study of unregulated market for certification of baseball cards • Twenty three Certification firms • Market values Cross Sellers and strict grading service yields higher returns to its buyers (no race to the bottom) • Implications for auditing: How important are independence and absence of conflict of interest in certification? Jamal & Sunder, Cerfication Society

  3. Regulatory Attempts to Improve Auditing • Seven decades of regulation under the SEC – regulation and audit failures • Major changes in regulation in 2002 (SOX) to promote auditor independence (and Quality?) • Controversy over whether these reforms improve auditing (Kinney et al., 2004) Jamal & Sunder, Cerfication Society

  4. Extent of Certification Services • In 1996, US Government documented 93,000 national standards developed by 80 government and 604 private agencies (Jamal and Sunder 2006) • National and international standards cover virtually all aspects of the economy (Jamal and Sunder 2006) • To what extent are standards accompanied by availability of services to certify compliance? Jamal & Sunder, Cerfication Society

  5. The Audit Society • “Audit explosion” in society (Power 1994): education, healthcare, government supported activities • Demand for audit fueled by political demands for accountability and control (Power 1999) • U.S. audit firms attempted to expand and re-label their “assurance” services into other sectors of the economy in the 1990s (Elliott 1998) • Retail customer as the new client for services • Audit firms failed in attempt to expand into e-commerce assurance market: could not compete with the business models of BBB Online and TRUSTe (Jamal, Maier and Sunder 2003) • Attempt to empirically assess the extent of availability of certification services in private sector Jamal & Sunder, Cerfication Society

  6. Sample Selection • Selected a sample of 817 items sold online and offline during June 12-July 25, 2004 • 400 items from (online) • 358 items from BLS Producer Price Index • 59 items from BLS Consumer Price Index Jamal & Sunder, Cerfication Society

  7. Availability of Certification Services by Type • Expert opinion about compliance with formal written standards (91%) • Expert opinion in absence of formal standards (7%) • Ratings given by lay people (no standards) 1% • Popularity/activity meters (best-seller lists for books, music, films, TV, etc.) 0.5% • Total: 99.5% have some kind of certificate • All four kinds of certification available for 40% Jamal & Sunder, Cerfication Society

  8. Table 1: Certification Services for Products Sold Online and Offline in the US Jamal & Sunder, Cerfication Society

  9. Extent of Certification • Results support for Power’s characterization of ours as a “audit society” • AICPA failed in its attempt to fill what they thought were empty spaces in the market for assurance services • Power (1994) studies the public sector, and attributed “audit explosion” to political forces • But certification is also ubiquitous for private goods • Demand for certification for private goods likely to be driven by broader economic forces Jamal & Sunder, Cerfication Society

  10. Data Obtained from One Official Partner of eBay (XYZ) • 128 experts • Offer opinions on 1,850 separate items • $9.95 fee for basic service • $29.95 for enhanced service • Experts do not follow any written standards • Opinions do not reference any written standards • Provides descriptions of experts (accreditation by professional institutes, education, related business, relevant experience): two examples Jamal & Sunder, Cerfication Society

  11. Self-Assessment of XYZ’s Experts • 128 experts as of July 12, 2004 • 39% had formal accreditation from a professional body • 25% formal relevant educational credentials • 79% ran a business in the products for which they provided certification • Only 9% reported themselves to be hobbyists Jamal & Sunder, Cerfication Society

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  13. Implications for Auditing • Possibility of conflict of interest (from trade in the relevant good or service) appears to be pervasive (norm) in certification services in general (79%); it is not confined to auditing • Unacceptability of advisory services to audit clients in a regulated market (Francis 2004) contrasts sharply with this data from unregulated domains Jamal & Sunder, Cerfication Society

  14. Fineness of Ratings/Certification • Auditor reports are essentially pass/fail (with some additional qualification) • Auditor gains a broad understanding of the quality of internal controls, governance, accounting policies, estimates, and disclosure, and future prospects of business • The coarse pass/fail grading does not attempt to convey this additional information to the client • Would a “finer” report be more informative to users? Jamal & Sunder, Cerfication Society

  15. Available Model • Dubey and Geanakoplos (2005): In general, an optimal grading scheme should have an intermediate level of fineness • Coarse reports have less information and do not motivate the reporting agent to exert more effort • Fine reports magnify the consequences of measurement errors • Intermediate grading scale may be optimal • Grading scheme should create a small elite grade • Absolute grading schemes dominate relative Jamal & Sunder, Cerfication Society

  16. Data on the Fineness of Government Standards • Visited websites of 80 departments of the federal government that set standards (Toth 1996) • Were able to access standards of 64 (80%) of these agencies • 53/64 (83%) set minimum requirements (pass/fail only) • 11/64 (17%) use finer grading (e.g., AAA beef) • DG: Most federal agencies use absolute standards, but do not set elite grades or use intermediate fineness scales (FDA is an exception) Jamal & Sunder, Cerfication Society

  17. Greater Variability in Fineness of Scales in Private Standards • Pass/fail (e.g., UL) • Multiple seals (TRUSTe for e-commerce privacy • 10-100 point rating scales (baseball cards, Consumer Reports on cars) • Often characterized by competition among rival standards and scales • Rating scales as a dimension of competition among services (Jin, Cato and List 2004) Jamal & Sunder, Cerfication Society

  18. Market for Baseball Card Certification Services • Jin, Cato and List (2004) • Dominant player is PSA: 1991, 10-point scale with 1 point increments, not graded on curve, 10% cards get 10 (no super elite grade) • BGS: 1999, 10-point scale with ½ point inc., numerical and qualitative labels (mint), sub-grades for corners, centering, surface, edges; 0.1% cards get 10, publishes grade distribution on-line; three brands of service (BVG, BGS, and BCCG) • SGC: 1999, smaller market share, 100-point scale (confusion, conversion table to 10-point scale) • 20 other smaller players (Table 3), largely consistent with DG predictions (no curve, intermediate fineness, super elite) Jamal & Sunder, Cerfication Society

  19. Table 3: Sports Card Grading Services (Summer 2004) Jamal & Sunder, Cerfication Society

  20. Comparison with the Market for Audit Services • Only binary pass/fail reports, little further detail permitted • If the purpose of SOX is to convey information about internal controls, will switch from pass/fail to graded report on IC, governance, quality of accounting estimates and accounting policy choices give better value to investors? • The current system suppresses the detailed knowledge gained by the auditor; more consistent with govt. not private markets Jamal & Sunder, Cerfication Society

  21. Value of Certification in Sports Card Market • Prospective sellers of sports cards can hire a certification agency to grade and certify their merchandise before selling • Independence and audit quality are difficult to observe in the audit market • Baseball card market includes pure and multi-service certifiers, allows a cleaner measure of “audit quality” in grading strictness, observation of an unregulated market and dimensions of competition (e.g., value pricing, computer grading, multiple experts grading the same card, letting customers choose their own grade) • Anxiety about race-to-the-bottom and independence in accounting (Dye and Sunder 2001) Jamal & Sunder, Cerfication Society

  22. Data for Assessing the Value of Certification Services • 321,045 cards traded on eBay during August 19-September 3, 2004 • Partitioned cards by decades of origin, single-rookie, graded/ungraded (Table 4) • Randomly selected 1,000 rookie and 1,000 singles cards from graded cards • Market shares of six major firms (Table 5) in the sample of graded cards (PSA 78 in singles, 39 rookie; BGS 6 singles, 34 rookie) Tables 5A, B Jamal & Sunder, Cerfication Society

  23. Table 4: Baseball Card Certification Services (Baseball Cards Traded on eBay, N=321,045) Singles (272,399 cards) Rookies (48,646 cards) Jamal & Sunder, Cerfication Society

  24. Assessing Strictness of Grading • Jin, Cato and List (2005) gave the same 212 cards to PSA, BGS and SGC online and to three offline dealers • Average scores: 8.5 for BGS and two dealers; 8.7 for PSA and one dealer, and 8.9 for SGC (BGS tighter cut-offs, precise); Table 5C • Tables 5A and B: empirical frequencies in our sample (self-selection bias): BVG’s premium service stands out (GAI, SGC) • Becket’s value brand (BCCG) is lower priced, also has relaxed standards • GEM gives the top grade of 10 to 73% percent of the singles cards • In rookie Table 5B: roughly similar results • Is the market able to adjust itself for differences in grading? Jamal & Sunder, Cerfication Society

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  26. Table 5A: Frequency of Grades Given by 3rd Party Certification Services (For a Sample of 1,000 Graded Single Baseball Cards) Jamal & Sunder, Cerfication Society

  27. Table 5A: Frequency of Grades Given by 3rd Party Certification Services (For a Sample of 1,000 Graded Rookie Baseball Cards) Jamal & Sunder, Cerfication Society

  28. Pricing and Value of Baseball Card Certification Services • PSA charged a $99 membership fee (dropped recently) • Table 3: Price varies ($2-50), extra for faster turnaround • For each graded card in the sample, we located an un-graded card matched by player, maker, year of issue, single-rookie • For unrated cards, we gathered price estimates from Beckett Baseball Card Monthly Guide (August 2004, Issue #234 online) • For rated cards, we recorded player, year, maker, grader, grade, buyer reputation, seller reputation, number of bids, and selling price • Table 6: Gross and net returns on baseball card grading services provided by six major service providers Jamal & Sunder, Cerfication Society

  29. Table 6: Average Returns to Grading of Rookie Cards (by Grader and Decade of Issue) Jamal & Sunder, Cerfication Society

  30. Returns to Certification Jamal & Sunder, Cerfication Society

  31. Table 7: Regression Analysis Ri = 1+ 1Yeari + 2Gradei + 3GPSAi + 4GBGSi + 5GBecketti +6GGAIi + 7GGEMi + 8GSGCi + ei Regression (990)df, R2 = 0.1747, p < 0.001. (Adjusted R2 = 0.168) *** p <0.001 ** p < 0.01 * p < 0.05 Jamal & Sunder, Cerfication Society

  32. Regression Analysis • Table 7: Year, grade and identity of grader have a significant effect on net return from the certification service • Certification service is more valuable for older cards (selection effect?) • The returns are ranked by strictness of grading scales, negative for the lenient graders • Easy grade of 10 from GEM does no good for the value of the card • No race to the bottom • Beckett able to provide different brands of service, and market is able to differentiate among them without getting confused Jamal & Sunder, Cerfication Society

  33. Problems of Cross-Market Inference • Baseball cards are physical objects of substantive interest; financial reports are symbolic representations of entities which are of substantive interest • In both cases, willingness to pay for certifiers’ expertise • Buyers rely on knowledge and reputation • Certifiers compete for fee revenues • Certifiers choose portfolio of services to offer Jamal & Sunder, Cerfication Society

  34. Back to Auditing • Regulatory objectives of auditing (quality of certification, independence, etc.) • In baseball card market 17/23 offer only certification services but six (including all major) players offer related services (pricing guides, dealers, magazines, shows) as well as handle other collectibles • Cross-sellers dominate the market and are able to collect premium price for their service, yielding positive net returns to their clients • Independence appears to be neither necessary nor sufficient condition for high quality service in this certification market • Why? Jamal & Sunder, Cerfication Society

  35. Skepticism about Deregulation • Will a deregulated market for auditing function properly (race to the bottom, Dye and Sunder)? • Industry expert auditors command higher fees and restrain abnormal accruals (Francis et al. 2005, 2006) • Recent policy changes (PCAOB) have gone in the other direction • Lenient graders generate negative returns to their clients • Jamal, Maier and Sunder (2003) on market for privacy seals in e-commerce dominated by higher quality • Does cross-selling of services promote or inhibit grade inflation? Antle et al. 1997; Dopuch 7 King 1991, Abdel-Khalik 1990; Simunic 1984; Zhang 2005; Antle & Demski 1991. • What are the real reasons for poor enforcement of GAAP by audit firms? Jamal & Sunder, Cerfication Society

  36. Concluding Remarks • Evidence on ubiquity of certification • Certification by government agencies is mostly binary (pass/fail) • Private certification has finer scale • Field study of baseball card grading market • Dominated by cross sellers (conflict of interest) • Multiple dimensions of competition • No race to the bottom Jamal & Sunder, Cerfication Society

  37. Open Questions • Will the tough auditors win or lose? • Are Independent auditors tough auditors? • Precision of grading – Significant? Should auditors issue more nuanced reports? • Does it pay to get audited (vs. reputation, warranty and disclosure) • Will de-regulated audit market lead to quality differentiation? Jamal & Sunder, Cerfication Society